Tamil journalists attacked as unrest escalates

New York, December 21, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about recent attacks on ethnic Tamil journalists amid a spike in violence that threatens a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

On Monday, security forces assaulted three Tamil journalists reporting on a student demonstration in the northern city of Jaffna, according to the Colombo-based press freedom advocacy group Free Media Movement. Thinakkural reporter T. Sabeswaran, Thinakaran reporter Wintson Jeyan and Namathu Eelanaadu reporter G. Jerad—all journalists for Tamil-language dailies—were beaten and their cameras destroyed while they covered student protests against army harassment.

Several protesters were wounded when baton-wielding soldiers charged the demonstration. The army also opened fire to disperse the thousands of protesters, but the Defense Ministry said that no one was injured by the gunfire, according to The Associated Press.

Also in Jaffna, armed soldiers searched the office of Namathu Eelanaadu last Thursday, questioning workers and checking national identity cards. Military officials did not give any reason for searching the office, but said their actions were part of security measures in the Tamil-majority area, according to Indo-Asian News Service.

On Saturday, police detained P. Parthipan, senior reporter for Thinakkural, and two of the newspaper’s computer technicians as they were returning home from work in the capital, Colombo, according to local media advocacy groups. The detention was part of a broad police search in Colombo for suspected Tamil Tigers; more than a hundred Tamils were detained after being asked to show their national identity cards, according to news reports. Despite showing police his national identity card and his media identification, Parthipan was held along with the other two men for around 24 hours. Police questioned, fingerprinted, and videotaped the men.

“It is crucial during times of violent unrest that authorities ensure that all journalists can report safely and without fear of harassment or attack,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Sri Lankan government to take measures to safeguard Tamil journalists.”

Dozens of people have been killed this month amid an upsurge in violent attacks that the government blames on LTTE rebels.